RED7 Records [Release date 27.02.17]
What’s the significance of an album title? In Troy Redfern’s hands a ‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ might be interpreted as an artistic way of life for a contemporary bluesman with a penchant for musical landscapes that stretch from the claustrophobic to the panoramic.
The former comes from a combination of his incredible energy levels and locked-in intensity that always needs to find a way out, while his wide screen ambience comes directly from ethereal tones that emanate from a retro meeting of steel on strings (though nowadays it might well be a plastic bottleneck).
Redfern’s dirt blues style is also a glance back at the graphic blues of the ’20′s, which he washes over with a contemporary production. Given the collision of narrative-driven songs with innovative guitar parts – he plays eletric and resonator guitars to explore a wide variety of tones – his own sense of ritual comes from the way he repeatedly digs deep for his noir filled narratives that shift from the first person to the observational.
‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ is like a personal movie or road trip, with a unique soundtrack that evokes meaning, feel, emotion and always sparks the attentive listener’s imagination.
Redfern’s role as a multi instrumentalist, vocalist, singer-songwriter and producer means that he’s never always quite able to fully embrace the potential groove of songs like ‘I See Love’, but on this song he falls back on his own musical and arranging abilities to explore the kind of sludgy, stuttering sound that dominates indie blues at the moment.
His double vocal and acoustic guitar lines facilitate a whispered style of phrasing that suggests a clandestine conversation. His deliberately plucked close-to-the-mic nylon strings gradually move to the forefront of the mix, over a ragged back beat that draws us into another facet of his musical palette.
‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ feels like an aggregation of noir-filled pieces in which he projects himself into different characters, scenarios, and atmospheres that are never too far removed from the portentous feel of a Coen Brothers landscape.
His guitar playing reaches from the intricate to the incendiary and his tonal variety takes us from the crystal clear to outright sonic distortion, which serves to emphasize a painstakingly assembled musical journey.
From the opening train style motif of ‘Revelator’, ‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ is as much about feel and an ethereal atmosphere as it about the lyrics. Though when the two combine magically as on ‘Time’s Gonna Wash You Away’, he pushes himself into the forefront of the contemporary dirt blues genre.
He cleverly explores a recurring retro feel with contemporary technology on the growled ‘The Brave’, which combines surf elements with coarse vocals and is lyrically resolved by the line : “fortune favours the brave”.
Where Jack White and later The Black Keys ushered in a new chapter of the blues and San Diego’s Little Hurricane have added a commercial bent to the dirty blues genre, Troy pushes the envelope to create his own sub-genre. It’s built on a minimalist approach, offset by an occasional dense wall of sound or a big guitar line that takes us into unexpected musical territories.
‘Jelly Roll’ for example, is a wild roller coaster ride, anchored by a bouncy bass line and projected by oodles of slide, while ‘Cold Light Of Day’ adds more frantic slide on a faux jump arrangement with a sparse rhythm track and trademark rasping vocal with a vague Dylan style phrasing.
The droning hill country groove of ‘I See Love’ is a masterful exposition of Refern’s art, as his close-to-the-mic, flinty edged nylon string sound purposefully cuts through the track. And though his guttural wail dumps us right in the middle of Mississippi, lyrically he’s evoking a more universal feeling.
‘Ray Gun’ is a pivotal moment on which everything comes together and burns. The familiar ‘Peter Gunn’ guitar motif is chiselled into a pounding rhythm track overlain by elongated phonetics. The descending piece has all the hallmark of a train coming off the tracks until he deftly adds judicious harmonics and more frenetic slide on the kind of track that The Pirates (the Brit godfathers of r&b) would surely love to have written.
This track lights the blue touch paper and at over barely over 2 minutes cleverly distils everything that is good about his style. Given the album is thoughtfully sequenced and pays diligent attention to the overall flow of the tracks, this is surely the moment when even the more circumspect listener will br moved to punch the air.
The twang laden ‘The Line’ is a surprisingly catchy piece of sub rockabilly. The mangled mid-song Hawaiian part and the bv’s give it a B-movie pastiche flavour, though the music is tougher than tough
The riff led ‘Aint No Judgement Day’ mines the familiar themes of sin and soul, but offers little time for redemption. He speaks to us in different tongues on his slide guitar without once being repetitive or recycling tired old licks. The cleverly fractured sonic outro is all you’d expect from this innovative producer/musician.
His extended use of electronics on ‘Sign of the Times’ is closer to the sonic distortion of Gary Clark Jr, on a wrecking ball of a track, while the link-piece ‘On The Skin’ allows the album to pause and breathe before a return to full on intensity of the reflective ‘My Time Ain’t Long’.
The jumping bass line of ‘Time’s Gonna Wash You Away’ evokes the early days of The Imperial Crowns in a style now totally co-opted by Troy, who cranks up a booming rhythm track and uses it as a launch pad for a guitar avalanche and magical wall of sound. Its another album highlight that unexpectedly rises up to fill the room with his own brand of real life dirt blues.
A nuanced stuttering drum pattern and jangling guitar sound provides the elemental part of the restless ‘Born To Lose’, on which his solo speaks a thousand words. This penultimate track perfectly encapsulates all the essential elements that precede it, on another excellent track.
The great thing about ‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ is that its a CD that stands up to both close scrutiny in a one-on-one listening experience, as well as being the kind of album you might hear in a club and that would lead you to ask who it is.
Redfern’s channelled intensity, imaginative narratives and high octane guitar playing is offset by a carefully layered sound that fills the tracks with sonic delight. You would expect nothing less from a slide guitar king who performs his own ‘Dirt Blues Ritual’ with distinction. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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